Stephen Dent Explains Why Dogs Need More Than Just Positive Reinforcement Training

There are many dog trainers who believe all you need to have a well trained dog is to push positive reinforcement. But Stephen Dent believes this simply isn’t enough.  Sure you can get your dog to roll over or sit with positive reinforcement, but if s/he wants to chase that rabbit in the yard, no “treat” is gonna make him/her sit and not bark. If Aunt Joan comes to the door, a treat isn’t going to entice the dog to stop barking and jumping up on her.

Owners who rely on positive only training find themselves stuck when Fido isn’t “in the mood” to do something.   What you need is a balance between positive dog training and negative reinforcement.  Negative reinforcement is the technique of training that is used to shape behavior when positive reinforcement isn’t working. The idea behind negative reinforcement is to apply an undesirable consequence where the dog learns to “stop it” by complying with the desired behavior.

Positive consequences ENGOURAGE dogs to repeat a behavior, while negative consequences DISCOURAGE them from repeating a behavior. Just like people, dogs need correction in their training and rewards when they are good. While positive only dog training is well-intentioned, it just doesn’t teach the way dogs learn best. Simply withholding a treat is not a negative consequence to most dogs. Especially not when they’re totally occupied with chasing the cat, chewing on your favorite shoes or digging through the trash. During that time, they don’t give a hoot about your “treat”.

By showing your dog both positive and negative consequences, he can make a choice to do a behavior or refrain from doing a behavior. Even if he might not care less about the treat, he may still control himself because he doesn’t want the negative consequence.